It’s hard to think of a tool that has taken to digitisation more readily than the map. But while cartography’s future seems decidedly digital, there’s at least one place where paper reigns supreme: the great outdoors. “You hear horror stories about people’s phones running out of battery or the app crashing,” says Emily Macaulay. “And suddenly they're lost.”
Macaulay is one half of This Way, a U.K. outfit specialising in mapping with ink. Where digital cartographers seek to document the world in its entirety, This Way’s focus is narrower, charting off-the-beaten-path places that even locals may not have noticed. The idea took shape when Macaulay and business partner Felicity Rowley met while binding books at Macaulay’s design firm, Stanley James Press. They bonded over their mutual love of “time-consuming and fiddly work”, then realised they shared another interest: hiking.
But out in the English countryside, they couldn’t help notice the lack of diversity on the hiking path. “Hiking in the U.K. is quite a middle-aged, middle-class, white pursuit,” Rowley says. “Yet Brighton is a multicultural city. It just felt like the hiking material out there wasn't appealing to people outside of that demographic.” Looking to nudge more people out of the city and into nature, the pair started designing maps of their favourite trails, complete with points of interesting: historical curios, significant architecture, wildlife, so on. Two years later they’ve produced five bespoke trail maps for the U.K., and aim to release a new map “as frequently as we can”. They also produce maps for private companies, and take commissions worldwide – they’re currently working on some maps of China – should anyone want their own neck of the woods uncovered.
As designers, Macauley and Rowley’s maps were always going to catch the eye. Making something readable was also a top priority. “Maps can be quite daunting if you're picking them up for the first time,” Macauley admits. “There’s a lot to get your head around.” Yet there’s also danger in paring them back too much. “That’s been one of our greatest design challenges: taking away as much as we can but leaving enough so that people aren’t going to get lost halfway up a moor,” Rowley adds.
To make sure their maps are accurate, the duo starts by walking out their desired route and keeping track of their path, installing handy way markers along the path with an electric drill. “In the U.K. we’re lucky there is a lot of open-source mapping data, so it's not a case of us going out there and measuring heights and contours. It’s more of a decision about what information we keep on the map,” Macauley says.
“I constantly test our maps in all weather conditions,” she adds, which is important in a place as rainy as England. “They hold up pretty well.” Which is more than can be said for a smartphone with a rapidly draining battery.